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June 03, 2010

About Squeaky Bum Time

Doctor Who: Cold Blood

Review by Paul Kirkley

CB meh I’ve banged on a fair bit in this blog – most notably here – about how Doctor Who’s patented Uniquely Flexible Format © means it is frequently brilliant and occasionally terrible but very rarely just, you know, okay. (Actually, I’d say there are three main categories of Nu-Who story: there are those amazing, dizzyingly inventive demonstrations of how to take popular family television to the level of art form – I’m thinking Blink, The Empty Child, Impossible Planet, Human Nature, Turn Left, Time of Angels, all the usual suspects; then there are the ones that are, frankly, absolute mince (yes, New Earth, The Next Doctor, Planet of the Dead, Victory of the Daleks, we’re looking at you); and then there’s a third sub-set of promising stories mortally wounded by one misfiring element like wonky plot logic (passim), rubbish jokes (Bad Wolf) or a sudden, unexpected handbrake turn to the shit (Love and Monsters.)

What we rarely get, though, are stories that are just middling. And The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood couldn’t be more middling if it laid down in the middle of a middle school in Middlesborough. At midday. It is the ultimate in inoffensive, uninspiring, quotidian, meat and potatoes nu-Who: difficult to love, but an absurd waste of energy to hate.

If I had to compare it to any other story of the past five years – and being a ming-mong obviously dictates that I must – I’d go for Utopia, another rare “whatever” story that ramped up the tension with a sudden switchback manoeuvre in the final reel. (Poor old Rory. I really liked him. Though I suspect we haven’t really seen the last of him. Pity he went with a bit of a comedy croak, but Karen Gillan’s reaction - all snot and tears and denial - more than made up for it, and I loved the fact the Doctor’s attempt to keep him in her memory was doomed to failure. He’s a track record of being a bit rubbish in Silurian stories, hasn’t he?)

Brown Trousers Time on Gallifrey

Anyway, as I come neither to praise nor bury this story, I’ll restrict myself to some random thoughts, to wit:

BTS Dr Poo :: Super Squeaky Bum Time: Look, I’m not one of those fans who expects the Doctor to have been preserved in aspic sometime around The Ark in Space. If he wants to make goofy jokes about EastEnders, rhapsodise about Ian Dury and dig on chicks, that’s fine by me – you can’t go 47 years without some character development. But, really, I draw the line at squeaky bum time. I mean, just think how many times over the years our hero has been in a bit of a fix, and not once has he felt the need to refer to the fact he and his allies might just shit themselves. (Imagine, for example, if The Deadly Assassin had opened with Tom Baker portentously intoning: “Suddenly, and terribly, the Time Lords faced the most dangerous crisis in their long history... yes, it really was Brown Trousers Time on Gallifrey.”)

:: Chris Chibnall loves countdowns, doesn’t he? 42 minutes to save the ship in, um, what episode was it again? 12 minutes until the Silurians arrived last week. And 15 minutes ’til the big bang at the end of this one. Still, I guess there are much worse things the producer of Torchwood could have done with that stopwatch, so perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies.

:: Good to see Matt Smith really going for it in the decontamination/torture scene but, given this was one giant Pertwee love-in, would it have killed him to give us a bit of boggly cross-eyed action? It would not.

:: The narration felt like a bit of an afterthought – like a very cheap own-brand version of The End of Time, with Timothy Dalton replaced by Marvin the Paranoid Android (“This is a story by Chris Chibnall. I’m so depressed.”)

:: Amy is still way, way too clever by half. “They’re in suspended animation!” “They’re transport discs!” “Through this door!” How does she know all this stuff? When she asked Mo, “Have you never picked a lizard man’s pocket before?” I got the impression she really had done it hundreds of times. A bit of plucky sang-froid is all very well, but where’s the awe, where’s the wonder? For someone who spent her whole life dreaming of the man in the blue box, she’s awfully blasé about the whole experience. Don’t get me wrong, she’s adorable and all that, but I can’t help feeling Karen Gillan is doing all the work on her own.

:: The Doctor has to be the most rubbish peace envoy since Tony Blair; he’s literally been in the Silurian city two minutes and the first thing he blurts out to them is: “I met some of you lot before – the human’s blew them up and now they’re all dead.” Nice one, Poindexter.

Silurian cosplay

:: We never found out what that massive drill was actually for, so I can only assume it was for boring the ruddy great holes in the plot. Still, they should definitely have been more careful around those ‘oxygen pockets’; tricky things, oxygen pockets: you’d hate to burst them and let the, erm, air in.

:: What exactly did the three Silurians who came up to the surface in part one actually intend to do? Alaya seemed dead set on provoking a war, Suez-style, from the start. But if she went over the top as cannon-fodder, how come her commander (and spiritual sister) was so shocked when she died?

:: What was the deal with those lizard masks, then? Were they to make the warriors look more scary? I know the war mask is a very old idea used by everyone from the Ivory Coast Grebo to the Iroquois Indians (Wikipedia is our friend) but you can’t help thinking, given that these were giant lizards, it was a bit unnecessary. Or maybe they’re just really into cosplay.

CB TT2 :: Could Mo have looked any more Welsh? That Alun Raglan is a shoo-in for Live and Let Dai: The Talfryn Thomas Story (coming to BBC Four soon, inevitably).

:: The “female of the species is more deadly than the male” element was a fun twist, especially the way it was reflected in Ambrose’s bellicosity on the surface. But I’m not really sure what Chibnall was trying to say. Women are inherently evil? Or just that men don’t necessarily gave to be? Incidentally, for someone who claims to hate apes so much, Alaya/Restac does a cracking Roddy McDowell impression.

:: Are these new Silurians a bit too human? They even tell each other to “shush”. And Restac's "warriors" were bloody quick desert their post, legging it back to hibernation at the first bit of incoming tannoy announcement.

:: I loved the Doctor telling the humans to spread the word “through legend or prophecy or religion… somehow, make it known”. It felt like the start of something wonderfully epic.

:: Was that a sneaky little E.T. homage when Tony touched Elliot’s heart and told him he’d be right here? Or was I just desperately trying to dredge up some emotion by mentally referencing something genuinely moving?

:: “You boys and your locksmithery.” Oddest. Insult. Ever.

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